Air Force Academy to pay $25,000 in legal fees in open records battle

The Gazette (Colorado Springs): The Air Force will pay $25,000 to cover attorney fees for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation in a Freedom of Information Act battle.

A federal district court judge in New Mexico ordered the payment last week and told the Air Force Academy to re-examine its archives for documents relating to the foundation, which goes by the acronym MRFF, and its founder Mikey Weinstein that would fall under the group’s 2011 Freedom of Information Act request.

The academy acknowledged the settlement, but said it is not an admission of wrongdoing.

“Attorney’s fees are not an uncommon expense for defendants in FOIA litigation, even when the parties settle without attributing fault or liability,” said academy spokesman Lt. Col. Allen Herritage. “This money is not paid directly by USAFA, but rather comes out of a general Air Force Litigation fund used in instances when the Air Force is sued.”

Weinsten’s group, based in Albuquerque, filed a sweeping request for documents in 2011, asking for internal academy communications about the foundation and its members.

Unsatisfied with the academy’s response to the request, Weinstein sued in 2015.

“After over one year of litigation, the USAFA has produced nearly 8,000 additional records to MRFF and has agreed to perform supplemental records searches for those years during which the USAFA unlawfully delayed in responding to MRFF’s request,” the foundation said in a news release. “USAFA has also agreed to pay MRFF’s lawyers, Vincent Ward and Amber Fayerberg, $25,000 in legal fees.”

Long waits for Air Force records aren’t uncommon. The academy has yet to respond to a 2014 Gazette request demanding emails regarding sent between top leaders regarding athlete misconduct.

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